Make Mine Marvel
Let’s get one thing clear: we will not be referring to the superhero with the lightning bolt and the magic word as “Shazam.” His name is Captain Marvel. “Shazam” is the magic word, as well as the name of the wizard who gives him his powers. Any legal issues regarding same are DC’s, not ours.
Though to be fair, DC’s issues regarding Captain Marvel and the Marvel family go deeper than just the name. The current climate at DC is great if you’re the type of character who’s into gritting your teeth and fighting a lonely nighttime crusade for vengeance and and who am I kidding we both know I’m talking about Batman. Even Superman struggles to maintain his essential idealism (a trait Greg Pak has been nailing recently in Action Comics and Superman/Batman) in the current age of high collars and , so a character as unbashedly aw-shucks as Captain Marvel has a hard time staying relevant.
More than any other character, Superman included, Captain Marvel is a character rooted in his Golden Age origins. At the peak of his popularity, he even outsold Superman – a fact which led DC to sue Fawcett, Marvel’s publisher, out of existence. DC had a troubled relationship with Captain Marvel, even then. Those stories from the 1940s contained an anything-goes sense of humor and a loopy intelligence. They were resolutely square – Captain Marvel’s face was famously modeled on Fred MacMurray‘s – and wore the nickname “The Big Red Cheese” with pride.
And they were ahead of their time; in an age when comics mainly consisted of 8-page-and-out stories, Captain Marvel devoted an amazing 24 issues – twice the length of Crisis On Infinite Earths, though just under half the length of 52 – to an epic battle against the unambiguously-named Monster Society Of Evil, concluding with the awesome twist that “Mr. Mind,” the unseen leader of the Society, was a superintelligent worm from outer space. Black Adam – an Egyptian prince who wielded the power of Shazam 5,000 years before Billy Batson – was Captain Marvel’s dark doppelganger, decades before Venom or Professor Zoom.
DC has made several attempts to modernize the Captain Marvel mythos, killing the wizard, having Billy take his place, and elevating Black Adam from villain status to the kind of morally gray antihero that warms DiDio’s heart. But, much like when Mary Marvel turned evil and started wearing a gothy black costume, it was enjoyable to look at but also kind of embarrassing.
(There was also the animated sorta-pilot, Superman/Shazam: The Return Of Black Adam, which effectively modernized the story, but made the decision to turn Tawky Tawny from a talking cartoon tiger to a homeless black man, which seems kind of ill-advised)
We don’t know much about the upcoming Shazam movie, other than that Dwayne “Are We Still Calling Him The Rock?” Johnson would be playing Black Adam, and that it’s been in development at New Line Cinema since before New Line was acquired by Warner Brothers. This could mean basically nothing, as it’s all still Warner Brothers, but it’s already been announced that the movie would not be part of the burgeoning “DC Cinematic Universe” and its accurately-derided “no jokes” policy. I know it’s too much to hope that we get the full on Big Red Cheese experience, complete with Uncle Dudley, the Lieutenant Marvels, and Hoppy The Marvel Bunny, but dare we hope for, at the very least, a sense of fun? My advice: save the soul-searching and angst for that other Captain Marvel.
Though not the other other Captain Marvel.